Hirshhorn After Hours

Friday, July 17, 2009

If Washington is now a home to a boomlet of museum soirees, the Hirshhorn After Hours is its old guard, the juggernaut with big ambitions and the pull to carry them off.

One would hardly suspect that After Hours is only two years old -- or that it's held at a Smithsonian museum. The music is booming, the DJs come from the city's club scene and outdoor bars pour signature cocktails such as pink mojitos. Baltimore's electro-wizard Dan Deacon once led the crowd into a writhing indie-rock rumba line at an After Hours; Los Angeles duo Lucky Dragons got aloof Washingtonians to touch one another en masse to make music.

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden hosts the affair four times a year, and it has evolved into a major happening, with a line that frequently stretches down Independence Avenue (peak attendance was 2,600 people; it is now capped at 2,000).

"We wanted to reach out to people within a certain age group that we could cultivate to be future supporters of contemporary art," says Gabriel Riera, a spokesman for the museum. But it's not a glorified cocktail party: "We definitely didn't want people standing around in blazers. We wanted a hip, contemporary crowd," he says.

With its audience in mind, After Hours is constantly changing. The event was once held indoors; now it expands into the outdoor plaza. The crowd, once exclusively young professionals, has a more international feel. Complaints about long lines for the bars and porta-potties have been addressed.

"I think I sensed at the beginning that this was kind of a long narrative," says Kevin Hull, a Hirshhorn programming staffer who has been a force behind the event since it was launched in March 2007. "In the beginning, the scale of it reflected our own not being sure if we were barking up the right tree. We were challenging a lot of the notions of what is okay to do."

THE CROWD: Art and music fans (or as some refer to them, hipsters) in their 20s to 40s make up the bulk of the crowd. Older and younger visitors are welcome, however.

ATTIRE: Creatively fashionable. It's about art, so originality is valued over trends. So guys, forget the blazer and go for the skinny jeans.

MUSEUM TIME: Yes. Enter the galleries until 10 p.m.

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